Six years

Dad -

I didn't really call you that while you were alive, and it feels strange to call you that now, but I didn't know any other way to start this letter.

I've become a person who grumbles at roadside memorials for victims of traffic accidents but who writes something about you every year on the anniversary of your death. I wondered about that for a number of years before I realized that I was closer to your death than I was to your life, and I've spent the years since trying to come to terms with your absence.

This entry covers it better than most:

We each had our own worlds, with our points of intersection, but for the most part we lived separate lives. I met some of my father's work friends for the first time at the visitation after his death, names I had heard of for years but whose faces and handshakes I had never known. He talked about us, it seems now, possibly more than he actually talked with us.

We make our place in the world we are born into, and through work and luck and personality and presence, the world gives us a space -- for a time -- before taking it back. When we go, our absence leaves holes in the fabric of the living, but in time, those holes close, and the world begins to seem once again right on its axis. The timeliness or untimeliness of our passing becomes irrelevant, for the world has moved on.

Mom is remarrying this year. It is yet another on the list of things that would not have happened had you lived. I am happy for her, but uneasy about what my new place in this moving-on will be. Amidst my friends from a dizzying variety of families (separated, blended, whipped until foamy) there was a constant: two parents, my sister, myself.

Not any more. My mother, my mother's fiance, her two grown daughters, his three grown sons. There are stepbrothers and stepnephews whose names I need to learn.

The wedding date is just a few days after Jeff's and my tenth anniversary. The photos from that decade-ago wedding are still there, in Jeff's and my hall; me in my tie-dyed Veasey Luau shirt at the rehearsal, pointing down at my feet to remind you not to step on them. My mind finds it vaguely incomprehensible that I'm going to fly directly from a trip celebrating my tenth anniversary to my mother's remarriage, because I've been back to Arkansas so few times since that ceremony and it seem by rights, nothing should have changed.

(But I'd be wrong. Very wrong.)

Relationships change over time. I told a friend earlier this week -- one of my few friends remaining who remembers you -- that I wondered how our relationship would have changed if you had lived longer. We weren't close, not by any stretch of the imagination. I want desperately to believe that you were proud of me, and that despite your words you saw potential in me, but barring some stupendous, dumbfounding letter from the grave, I will live the rest of my life without knowing. I would like to believe that if we'd had more time, perhaps we would have had that giant, air-clearing fight that I wasn't ready to have in my early twenties.

I want to believe our relationship would have changed for the better, but there's no way to know that, is there? There's only the sinking feeling of watching your friends' relationships with their parents change as everyone ages, and feeling robbed.

I cried a few days ago when I realized it was mid-March. Not so much for the date but because when I tried to conjure up memories of you, there was so little I could point to for remembrance. I remember so few real conversations between us -- mostly it's arguments, frustration, and absence -- but my inability to remember your voice this past week made me sob so hard I thought my chest would burst.

In September, my photography will be shown for the first time. I do vividly remember that it was you who first put a camera into my six-year-old hands. I have never been able to match my sister's or my uncle's ability to photograph landscapes, but over the past six months I've managed to prove even to myself that I have an eye for composition and a definite photographic style.

I find myself saying this a lot: I wish you could have seen it.

We'll light a candle for you at Mom's wedding.

(...and today it rains almost as hard as the week he died. A different year, a different state, and yet so strangely familiar.)